페이지 이미지


Ærat. 19.

sities, where they feldom read any books but what are put into their hands by their tutors; so that when I came to Oxford, Dr. Adams, master of Pembroke College, told me, I was the best qualified for the University that he had ever known come there."

In estimating the progress of his niind during these two years, as well as in future periods of his life, we must not regard his own hasty confession of idleness; for we fee, when he explains himself, that he was acquiring various stores ; and, indeed, he himself concluded the account, with faying, “I would not have you think I was doing nothing then.” He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduousy; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of aniinals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher favour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?

That a man in Mr. Michael Johnson's circumstances should think of sending his son to the expensive University of Oxford, at his own charge, seems very improbable. The subject was too delicate to question Johnson upon : But I have been assured by Dr. Taylor, that the scheme never would have taken place, had not a gentleman of Shropshire, one of his schoolfellows, spontaneously undertaken to support him at Oxford, in the character of his companion ; though, in fact, he never received any affistance whatever from that gentleman.

He, however, went to Oxford, and was entered a Commoner of Pembroke College, on the 31st of October, 1728, being then in his nineteenth year.

The Reverend Dr. Adams, who afterwards presided over Pembroke College with universal esteem, told me he was present, and gave me some account of what passed on the night of Johnson's arrival at Oxford. On that evening, his father, who had anxiously accompanied him, found means to have him introduced to Mr. Jorden, who was to be his tutor.

His being put under any tutor, reminds us of what Wood says of Robert Burton, authour of the “ Anatomy of Melancholy,” when elected student of Christ Church; “ for form's fake, though he wanted not a tutor, he was put under the tuition of Dr. John Bancroft, afterwards Bishop of Oxon!.”

9 Athen. Oxon. edit. 1721. p. 628.

His father seemed very full of the merits of his son, and told the company he 1728. was a good scholar, and a poet, and wrote Latin verses. His figure and manner Ætat. 19. appeared strange to them; but he behaved modestly, and fat filent, till upon something which occurred in the course of conversation, he suddenly struck in and quoted Macrobius; and thus he gave the first impression of that more extensive reading in which he had indulged himself.

His tutor, Mr. Jorden, fellow of Pembroke, was not, it seems, a man of such abilities as we should conceive requisite for the instructor of Samuel Johnson, who gave me the following account of him.

“ He was a very worthy man, but a heavy man, and I did not profit much by his instructions. Indeed, I did not attend him much. The first day after I came to college, I waited upon him, and then staid away four. On the sixth, Mr. Jorden asked me why I had not attended. I answered, I had been Niding in ChristChurch meadow. And this I said with as much non-cbalance as I am now' talking to you. I had no notion that I was wrong or irreverent to my tutor.” Boswell. “ That, Sir, was great fortitude of mind.” JOHNSON. “No, Sir; stark insensibility.”

The fifth of November was at that time kept with great folemnity at Pembroke College, and exercises upon the subject of the day were required. Johnson neglected to perform his, which is much to be regretted; for his vivacity of imagination, and force of language, would probably have produced something sublime upon the gunpowder plot. To apologise for his neglect, he gave in a short copy of verses, entitled Somnium, containing a common thought; “ that the Muse had come to him in his seep, and whispered that it did not become him to write on such subjects as politicks; he should confine himself to humbler themes :" but the versification was truly Virgilian.

He had a love and respect for Jorden, not for his literature, but for his worth. “ Whenever (faid he) a young man becomes Jorden's pupil, he becomes his son.”

Having given such a specimen of his poetical powers, he was asked by Mr. Jorden to translate Pope's Messiah into Latin verse, as a Christmas exercise. He performed it with uncommon rapidity, and in so masterly a manner,

[ocr errors]

• Oxford, 20th March, 1776.

2 It ought to be remembered, that Dr. Johnson was apt, in his literary as well as moral exer. cises, to overcharge his defects. Dr. Adams informed me, that he attended his tutor's lectures, and alfo the lectures in the College Hall, very regularly.




Etat. 19.

that he obtained great applause from it, which ever after kept him high in the estimation of his College, and, indeed, of all the University.

It is said, that Mr. Pope expressed himself concerning it in terms of strong approbation. Dr. Taylor told me, that it was first printed for old Mr. Johnson, without the knowledge of his son, who was very angry when he heard of it. A miscellany of Poems, collected by a person of the name of Husbands, was published at Oxford in 1731. In that miscellany Johnson's Translation of the Messiah appeared, with this modest motto from Scaliger's Poeticks, “ Ex alieno ingenio Póeta, ex suo tantum versificator.

I am not ignorant that critical objections have been made to this and other specimens of Johnson's Latin Poetry. I acknowledge myself not competent to decide on a question of such extreme nicety. But I am satisfied with the just and discriminative eulogy pronounced upon it by my friend Mr. Courtenay.

“ And with like ease his vivid lines assume
“ The garb and dignity of ancient Rome.-
“ Let college verse-men trite conceits express,
“ Trick'd out in splendid shreds of Virgil's dress;
“ From playful Ovid cull the tinsel phrase,
“ And vapid notions hitch in pilfer'd lays ;
" Then with mosaick art the piece combine,
“ And boast the glitter of each dulcet line:
“ Johnson adventur'd boldly to transfuse
“ His vigorous sense into the Latian muse;

Aspir’d to shine by unreflected light,
And with a Roman's ardour think and write.
“ He felt the tuneful Nine his breast inspire,
And, like a master, wak’d the foothing lyre:
“ Horatian strains a grateful heart proclaim,
While Sky's wild rocks resound his Thralia's name.-

Hesperia's plant, in some less skilful hands,
“ To bloom a while, factitious heat demands;

Though glowing Maro a faint warmth supplies,
“ The sickly blossom in the hot-house dies :

By Johnson's genial culture, art, and toil,
“ Its root strikes deep, and owns the fost’ring foil ;


« Imbibes

« Imbibes our sun through all its swelling veins,
“ And grows a native of Britannia's plains 3.”


Ætat. 20.

The “morbid melancholy” which was lurking in his constitution, and to which we may ascribe those particularities, and that aversion to regular life, which, at a very early period, marked his character, gathered such strength in his twentieth year, as to aMict him in a dreadful manner. While he was at Lichfield, in the College vacation of the year 1729, he felt himself ,overwhelmed with an horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and impatience; and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, which made existence misery. From this dismal malady he never afterwards was perfectly relieved; and all his labours, and all his enjoyments, were but temporary interruptions of its baleful influence. How wonderful, how unsearchable are the ways of God! Johnson, who was blest with all the powers of genius and understanding in a degree far above the ordinary state of human nature, was at the same time visited with a disorder so afflictive, that they who know it by dire experience, will not envy his exalted endowments. That it was, in some degree, occasioned by a defect in his nervous system, that inexplicable part of our frame, appears highly probable. He told Mr. Paradise that he was sometimes so languid and inefficient, that he could not distinguish the hour upon the town-clock.

Johnson, upon the first violent attack of this disorder, strove to overcome it by forcible exertions. He frequently walked to Birmingham and back again, and tried many other expedients, but all in vain. His expression concerning it to me was, “ I did not then know how to manage it.” His distress became so intolerable, that he applied to Dr. Swinfen, physician in Lichfield, his godfather, and put into his hands a state of his case, written in Latin. Dr. Swinfen was so much struck with the extraordinary acuteness, research, and eloquence of this paper, that in his zeal for his godson he shewed it to several people. His daughter, Mrs. Desmoulins, who was many years humanely supported in Dr. Johnson's house in London, told me, that upon his discovering that Dr. Swinfen had communicated his case, he was so much offended, that he was never afterwards fully reconciled to him. He indeed had good reason to be offended; for though Dr. Swinfen's motive was good, he inconsiderately betrayed a matter deeply interesting and of great delicacy, which had been entrusted to him in confidence; and exposed a

3 Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Character of Dr. Johnson, by John Courtenay', Efq. M. P.

E 2


[blocks in formation]

complaint of his young friend and patient, which, in the superficial opinion of the generality of mankind, is attended with contempt and disgrace.

But let not little men triumph upon knowing that Johnson was an HYPOCHONDRIACK, was subject to what the learned, philosophical, and pious Dr. Cheyne has so well treated, under the title of “ The English Malady." Though he suffered severely from it, he was not therefore degraded. The powers of his great mind might be troubled, and their full exercise fufpended at times, but the mind itself was ever entire. As a proof of this, it is only necessary to consider, that, when he was at the very worst, he composed that ftate of his own case, which shewed an uncommon vigour, not only of fancy and taste, but of judgement. I am aware that he himself was too ready to call such a complaint by the name of madness ; in conformity with which notion, he has traced its gradations, with exquisite nicety, in one of the chapters of his RASSEL A S. But there is surely a clear distinction between a disorder which affects only the imagination and spirits, while the judgement is found, and a disorder by which the judgement itself is impaired. This distinction was made to me by the late Professor Gaubius of Leyden, physician to the Prince of Orange, in a conversation which I had with him feveral years ago, and he expanded it thus : “ If (said he) a man tells me that he is grievously disturbed, for that he imagines he sees a ruffian coming against him with a drawn sword, though at the same time he is conscious it is a delusion, I pronounce him to have a disordered imagination ; but if a man tells me that he fees this, and in consternation calls to me to look at it, I pronounce him to be mad.

It is a common effect of low spirits or melancholy, to make those who are afflicted with it imagine that they are actually suffering those evils which happen to be most strongly presented to their minds. Some have fancied themselves to be deprived of the use of their limbs, fome to labour under acute diseases, others to be in extreme poverty, when, in truth, there was not the least reality in any of the suppositions ; so that when the vapours were dispelled, they were convinced of the delusion. To Johnson, whose supreme enjoyment was the exercise of his reason, the disturbance or obscuration of that faculty was the evil most to be dreaded. Insanity, therefore, was the object of his most dismal apprehension; and he fancied himself seized by it, or approaching to it, at the very time when he was giving proofs of a more than ordinary foundness and vigour of judgement. That his own diseased imagination should have so far deceived him, is strange; but it is stranger still that some of his friends should have given credit to his groundless


« 이전계속 »